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A heartbreaking work of staggering genius

The meaning of «a heartbreaking work of staggering genius»

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir by Dave Eggers released in 2000. It chronicles his stewardship of his younger brother Christopher "Toph" Eggers following the cancer-related deaths of his parents.

The book was a commercial and critical success, reaching number one on The New York Times bestseller list and being nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. Time magazine and several newspapers dubbed it "The Best Book of the Year". Critics praised the book for its wild, vibrant prose, and it was described as "big, daring [and] manic-depressive" by The New York Times. The book was chosen as the 12th best book of the decade by The Times.[1]

The book's primary story is Eggers's learning to be both brother and parent to Toph. It starts out with Eggers, Toph, and Beth dealing with their mother and father's stomach and lung cancer illnesses, respectively. After their parents' deaths, Eggers, Toph, and Beth's lives become complicated. The three children move from Illinois to California.

Beth lives on her own at first, and Toph becomes Eggers's responsibility. Eggers, a man in his early 20s, has to raise a child as if he were his own. Eggers's life can no longer involve things many 20-year-olds would like to do. For example, Eggers cannot stay out of the house all night at the bar and bring home a different girl every week, something which he talks about wanting to do in his book in detail.

With the help of an inheritance and Social Security, Eggers and Toph rent apartments in neighborhoods where Toph can go to private schools and Eggers can work on his magazine venture. Eggers is occasionally self-conscious about the cleanliness of their various homes and worries that other people will mistakenly find him unfit to parent Toph, but counterbalances these images with recollections of including Toph in fun activities (frisbee, for example) and cooking, laundering, and driving for Toph.

Eggers talks thoroughly about how much he loves and cares for Toph. Eggers says he would kill or severely hurt anyone who hurts Toph. In addition, all the times Eggers leaves Toph at home with a babysitter, Eggers is constantly wondering whether or not Toph is okay.

In Lake Forest, Illinois, Dave Eggers and his siblings, Bill, Beth and Toph (who is 13 years younger than his next-eldest sibling, Dave) endure the sudden death of their father due to lung cancer. Their mother dies a month later from stomach cancer after a long struggle.

Afterwards, Eggers, Beth and Toph move to California. Bill, who does not play a large role in the plot, eventually moves to Los Angeles. The rest of the family live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Eggers and Toph begin living on their own in a dilapidated, untamed fashion. Eggers struggles between moments of feeling that his approach to parenting is calculated and brilliantly designed to make Toph well-adjusted, to worrying that his hands-off approach and commitment to personal projects will make Toph maladjusted. Eggers's own attempts to lead a normal life as a young adult often involve fairly ordinary encounters with women and alcohol, but are depicted by the author as somewhat surreal. Due to his parents' death and his duty to take care of Toph, he feels robbed of his youth, and this fuels his pursuit of sex and irresponsibility.

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